Damn it, History, why must you be so upsetting? You know what it is? Everything has gone to hell since Lady Jacquetta (Janet McTeer) died last episode. Missing you already, awesome witchy mother of Queen Elizabeth (Rebecca Ferguson)! Her life really sucks without you.
Now, the “Previously on...” here gives us Lizzie’s hopeful “Death to George” spell of lo, these many episodes ago, so – and I’m just taking a stab here – perhaps she is finally going to be rid of that pesky brother-in-law of hers this episode? Also, we flashback on Richard (Aneurin Barnard) and Anne (Faye Marsay) marrying for love, as well as see Lady Margaret (Amanda Hale) tie herself to Lord Stanley (Rupert Graves) entirely for convenience, vowing to make her fanatical Lancastrian self agreeable to the House of York. Oh, where will this all lead? Let us find out!
(Need to catch up? Don't miss Rachel Hyland's recaps of The White Queen episode 1, episode 2, episode 3, episode 4, episode 5, and episode 6. The series is currently airing in the UK; it premieres on Starz in the U.S. on August 10, at which time we'll repost the recaps.)
It’s 1473, and there is an orgy a’happening in the royal chamber. Edward fools around with two young court beauties (one is the bewitching Jane Shore [Emily Berrington], of last episode’s unfaithfulness) while a sulky George (David Oakes), an impassive Richard and a titillated Lord Stanley look on. Indeed, if there has been anything creepier in this show than the look on Lord Stanley’s face as he enjoys this live sex show it is... well, the look on George’s face as he watches this live sex show and strokes his dog at the same time. (That is not a euphemism; he actually brought along a dog!) Richard’s face is unfathomable, but likewise creepy. It’s just a very uncomfortable situation all around.
The timeline has once again been accelerated here, so after suffering the deaths of both her newborn son and her mother last time out, Elizabeth is at this very moment about to give birth. Edward takes a moment to honor her for this in between ravishing assorted giggling wenches; I am starting to hate Edward. And man, he got FAT all of a sudden. He looks like he’s the one about to have a kid, and it’s definitely a multiple birth. (Wonder if Max Irons and Rebecca Ferguson are sharing belly padding to save on the costume budget?) Turns out his weight gain is all part of a whole new problem George brings to his attention: the people are calling him a wastrel, what with all his eating and his “whoring” – that’s a bit harsh, George, with Jane Shore right there – and so there is only one thing for it. Invade France! Win back their ancestral lands (yes, the English Kings were convinced they totally owned France), and at the conclusion of this process, which Edward seems to think both reasonable and easily accomplished, make George the conquered country’s Regent, since he’s tired of his brothers getting to play with all the really fun toys/titles.
What could possibly go wrong?
Elsewhere, Richard returns to his new home, Warwick Castle, whereat live his wife and infant son (another Edward!), and brings with him Anne’s mother, Lady Warwick (Juliet Aubrey). She has been held a prisoner in an abbey since her turncoat husband’s death a while back, but now, with her enormous fortune on the line, Richard has brought her to be imprisoned in her own home instead, lest George spirit her away in the night and gain access to all that massive Warwick wealth. (Thus Richard: “You should be grateful, Countess. It is here, the Tower, or the grave.”) Anne is understandably furious with her mother, who variously sold her into marriage to be brutally raped, abandoned her on a battlefield to be (attempted) brutally raped, and then had the gall to be cross with her widowed teenage daughter for not rescuing her from confinement against the wishes of a King. But the Countess wasn’t married to Lord Warwick (James Frain) for all those years without learning a thing or two about manipulation: she begins sowing seeds of doubt over Richard’s motives for marrying Anne, and as we consider the evidence, it does begin to seem as though he might be in this for the money, just as much as was George when he married Anne’s sister Isabel (Eleanor Tomlinson).
Speaking of Izzy, I am having a really hard time with the inconsistency of her characterization in this series – her shifts of mood, temperament and credulity are enough to make one dizzy. Where previously she has been cunning and strong-willed and occasionally even feisty, in this outing she is all needy wife clinging to the idea that someday her husband might love her – if only she were to bear him a son, which will surely happen as long as the evil witch Elizabeth’s curses don’t prevent it. In fact, every ounce of pity you might once have felt for Isabel is utterly ruined by her absolute belief in Elizabeth’s diabolical magical powers, and what they have done, and might in future do, to her family.
She’s not alone in this, though. Everyone’s blaming Elizabeth, and her magic, for everything in this episode.
George hates her more than anyone, and it is clearly this that has infected Izzy. If only she could see that her husband has gone several shades of crazy, simultaneously megalomaniacal and paranoid as well as his usual fratricidal. The war with France does not go as he wills it – and, in fact, Edward brokers a peace deal that gets one of his daughters a Queenship and his treasury a hefty deposit, as well as an even bigger orgy than he’s ever gotten to have at home.
So, of course, it Elizabeth’s fault!
Then George’s dog dies. Elizabeth’s fault!
Then Isabel dies after having a baby (a boy, despite the so-called curse placed upon her to prevent that very thing). Elizabeth’s fault!
Then it turns out that George conspired with the King of France to kill Edward and take his throne, thereby leading to his execution. Elizabeth’s fault!
Then George dies a traitor, which means all his lands are forfeit and so his half of the Warwick fortune reverts to Edward, and not to Anne and Richard. Elizabeth’s fault!
(Well, sure – but let me ask you this? Wouldn’t Lord Warwick have also died a traitor, what with his having taken up arms against the King? And therefore, were not all of his lands also forfeit? And so wouldn’t Edward already be in possession of all of this hotly contested bounty, leaving Richard no reason other than love to marry Anne? Look, if you’re going to use this as a point of contention, show, at least have it make sense.)
Oh, yeah, and by the way, all that abovementioned stuff happened.
Before his eventual execution – during which the anecdotal tale of the Duke of Clarence’s death in a vat of wine is given full credence – George dares to denounce Elizabeth as a witch and accuse her of murder. Edward’s all like “For once, rise above” to his long-suffering spouse, before no doubt going off to find some chambermaid to service him (I really, really hate Edward now. And it’s not like he was especially rise above-ish when he heard about the plot with France, or when his brother announced his cowardly, pillow-based murder of the old King from two episodes back). Instead, and proving herself her clever mother’s daughter, Elizabeth insists upon bringing Anne to confront her, to get all the rumors out in the open and to quash them once and for all—mostly by affixing blame firmly on George and not actually denying that she is, in fact, a witch.
What this episode is, more than anything, is a morality play on the hysteria surrounding the fear of the Dark Arts and those who supposedly practice them—and just how sexist it all is. All this fatuous belief in Elizabeth’s magic, and in a sorcerer who can supposedly protect against it, is palpably ludicrous, despite what we’ve been told herein of the River Goddess Melusine and the so-called gifts she passed down to her descendents. Sure, Elizabeth believes she is capable of supernatural acts, as was Jacquetta before her (and, all indications suggest, the eldest royal princess is of a similar mind), but she has never expressed this belief to others of her family or Court, nor has she openly performed any rituals or spells that we’ve seen. She doesn’t even have a broom. Yet somehow, everyone decries this strong, powerful woman as a witch, convinced that the only way she can be so honored is to have the King in her thrall (though were that the case, surely he wouldn’t be warming half the beds in London at this juncture?), no doubt with the use of potions and herbology and a bunch of other courses on the Hogwarts curriculum.
One check in the equality column here is that the male sorcerer that George hired to ostensibly protect against Elizabeth, but really to forecast Edward’s death – which, apparently, is High Treason; how weird, that paying a sorcerer to forecast the King’s death was so common an occurrence that they had to criminalize it – is executed just as surely as she would have been were she to ever to be discovered in her wicked witchy ways. Though he died at a simple private hanging rather than being burnt at the stake as festival entertainment. So: still sexist.
Meanwhile, despite the fact that George went raving-lunatic-deranged in this episode, stepping up the insane from his usual low-level petulance and entitlement to the point where he simply could not be allowed to live, it is Edward’s other brother who is more worrisomely verklempt at present. See, although he was initially opposed to it, Richard came around to the idea of seizing back France and covering himself in martial glory, and so was mightily disappointed in Edward’s peace brokering, calling him a “merchant” and despising (though, of course, keeping) the gold he was offered as his share.
Matters are only made worse when the York boys’ awful mother Duchess Cecily (Caroline Goodall) comes to Richard, and when begging him to intervene on behalf of the doomed George she says soulfully: “Oh please, not George. Not George, of all of you.” And this, after her earlier speech about all the children born of Edward and Elizabeth’s union being bastards, since their marriage was not valid. (Why hello there, FORESHADOWING. Nice to see ya! Oh, and then you pop up again later, when George’s sorcerer has told him that the Queen will “give her sons to their killer with her own hands.” Damn, I wish I didn’t know where this was going...) But anyway, how cold is that? With this, Duchess Cecily wins the Worst Mother of the Roses Award, taking over from Lady “I do not care if you are happy” Beauchamp and Lady “Abandoned teen daughter to be raped on battlefield” Warwick, because of the unintentionally hilarious way she screeches and rails at her Kingly son and then attaches herself to his leg as he attempts to stalk from the room. Goodall puts in a terrific performance as the distraught Cecily, and Max Irons – at last, looking a little aged, or at least somewhat haggard – delivers such a universal grimace of filial embarrassment that you can’t help but feel for him a little. A very little. Had the once-faithful Richard been there to see it, perhaps things might have turned out differently, but as it stands, the littlest York has had the scales fall from his eyes, and he now sees Edward as the rapacious, throw-money-at-the-problem, outwardly-charming-but-inwardly-vicious excuse for a man he is. (Yeah: I actively detest Edward at this point.)
And hey, in other sibling news: Elizabeth’s delightfully sensible, honorable brother Anthony (Ben Lamb), who had wisely refused to fight in the aborted France campaign and then refused to watch as Edward prosecuted his brother for treason – because no one’s going to get a fair trial when the King is also the DA – is pretty much the only stand-up guy left in the field of play, which means next episode is probably not going to go well for him. Oh, and bye Mary (Eve Ponsonby), Elizabeth’s sweet-faced sister, who has always just kind of been around being helpful but who now wants to go back to a husband we didn’t even know she had, because life at Court has gotten very icky. We must presume that we are given to witness this otherwise insignificant exchange to make us understand just how the hell Lizzie ends up with good ol’ Margaret of Beaufort as her closest confidante.
So, where is Maggie B in all this, you may ask? Well, after being barely tolerated by Lizzie for most of her pre-episode time as a lady-in-waiting, Lady Margaret’s laying on of hands “saved” Elizabeth’s newborn infant – yeah, the music swelled mystically and everything – and made of Lizzie a fan, all past misdeeds and pious posturing forgotten. Instead, Maggie B becomes the Queen’s spymaster, listening in on all the Court gossip and relaying as much as she needs to without necessarily helping out her boss/enemy too much. Margaret believes Lizzie to be a witch and an unnatural woman, to be so taken with her own power (hypocrisy, thy name is Margaret of Beaufort), but the two do seem to form an actual bond here, and they even pray together, which is surely the Maggie B equivalent of waxing each other’s bikini lines. Though it is Lady Margaret’s later prayers, which seem more than a little witchcrafty themselves, that are the more troubling, as she uses the ol’ “blow out the candle” to signify the wished-for death of the five males standing between her exiled son Henry and the throne...
So, yeah. Upsetting. George and Izzy are dead (with Elizabeth implicated in their deaths), Elizabeth has been fooled by Maggie B’s pretence of servitude, Richard despises Edward now, and may possibly have married Anne only for her money after all (and will be able to divorce her because they are, erk, cousins), Edward is a jerkface whom absolute power has corrupted absolutely (and everyone knows he smothered the mad old King in his sleep), all the York heirs are marked for death, and while Lady Jacquetta has sadly breathed her last, Duchess Cecily is permitted to yet live. Also, I continue to hold the gravest of fears for Anthony, and he’s the only one left I actually like!
Still, unto the breach once more my friends, and let’s all come back next week for the thrilling antepenultimate installment of Everyone Dies Horribly...uh, I mean The White Queen!
Rachel Hyland is Editor in Chief of Geek Speak Magazine.